It took about five minutes of questioning for the acting attorney general to provoke gasps and jeers in the congressional hearing room. “Your five minutes is up,” Matthew Whitaker, an ex–U.S. attorney turned toilet salesman, told the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, Jerry Nadler. Nadler cracked a smile, but from that point on, the rules of engagement seemed clear: Whitaker, with just days remaining in his legally dubious role as the interim head of the Justice Department, appeared to be playing to an audience of one.
President Donald Trump appointed Whitaker late last year to replace Jeff Sessions, whose recusal from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation in early 2017 was viewed by the president as an unforgivable betrayal. But Whitaker was not the obvious replacement—he served for a few years as a U.S. attorney in Iowa, but spent far longer in private practice and partisan politics. He also served as a paid advisory-board member of a fraudulent invention-promotion firm. Later, he was the executive director of a conservative nonprofit funded by dark money. And then came his stint as a CNN commentator in 2017, during which he blasted Mueller and opined that his probe had “gone too far.” All of this received heavy scrutiny as the constitutional basis of his appointment was challenged in the courts.
But Friday marked his first oversight hearing on Capitol Hill.
“I’m confused, I really am,” Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries told Whitaker at one point. “We’re all trying figure out: Who are you, where did you come from, and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice?” [Continue reading…]